Glenn Gibbons: Fading glories still leave today’s game in shade

THERE comes a stage when anniversaries tend to land with an unnerving thud.

And so, in 48 hours’ time, it will be 45 years to the very day – Monday, 9 January, 1967 – since this veteran scribbler, then just three weeks away from his 22nd birthday and slightly apprehensive, crossed the threshold of the Glasgow office of DC Thomson and Co to begin the great adventure.

One of the penalties for that length of service, of course, is having to tolerate regular accusations from audacious young whippersnappers of allowing nostalgia to distort judgment, to lean towards exaggeration in any remembrance of things past and in making comparisons in standards with the different generations of sporting heroes, most specifically in Scottish football.

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It is a danger that is undeniable, but one that I have always tried consciously to avoid. In the matter of favouring a distinguished past over an inglorious present, however, my case is based on the legal principle of veritas.

On that fateful day in 1967, the budding football writer could look forward to a European Cup quarter-final that would lead ultimately to Celtic’s triumph in Lisbon; to a Cup Winners Cup quarter-final that would launch Rangers towards the final of that tournament and an unfortunate 1-0 defeat in extra time by Bayern Munich on home soil in Nuremberg; and to a third-round tie in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (now the Europa League) that would lead to Kilmarnock’s eventual appearance in the semi-finals, where they would be eliminated by Billy Bremner’s Leeds United. In that same tournament, Dunfermline would be eliminated by the winners, Dinamo Zagreb, only on away goals after an aggregate 4-4 draw, while Dundee United could recount home and away victories in an aggregate 4-1 triumph over Barcelona, as well as a home win against Juventus in the course of losing narrowly to the Italian giants over two legs in the third round.

During the first two decades of the past 45 years, there would be other European successes (Rangers in Barcelona in ’72 and Aberdeen in Gothenburg in ’83) and other finals (Celtic in Milan in ’70 and Dundee United home and away against Gothenburg in the Uefa Cup in ’87) to underline the astonishing capacity of this small dot on the football map for producing players, teams and managers of exceptional merit.

A random example of a Hibernian XI under the late Eddie Turnbull reveals eight internationals in arguably the most formidable team never to have won a championship. Incidentally, the three uncapped players were Alex Edwards, Jimmy O’Rourke and the late Alan Gordon, a trio that would probably boast an average of 50 appearances these days (think Scott Brown, Gary Caldwell and Garry O’Connor).

The prosecution rests.

Ally McCoist set to suffer cruellest January in SPL

Contrary to TS Eliot’s claims for April, any football manager in want of a wedge of a club owner’s money will insist that January is the cruellest month. The Scottish game at present overflows with walking rebuttals of the old poet’s most famous line, but few, if any, are likely to be more troubled by the 31-day opening of the transfer window than Ally McCoist.

Already lamenting the 17-point turnover that transformed Rangers’ 15-point advantage in November into a two-point deficit by the end of December, the Ibrox manager seems certain to be worse off on the day the markets close than he was on the day they opened.

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Not only is there a strong probability that one or two of his more productive players will be sold, but it is understood he has been told by his chairman, Craig Whyte, that cost-cutting (which translates as reducing the wage bill of the playing staff) remains the chief priority at the club. This intimation amounts to an assurance that the manager will not be entering the sales ring as a buyer.

Whatever “reports” may appear in media outlets with the “news” that McCoist is targeting this player or that, it may be inferred that they are simply the work of pressured, anxious reporters desperate to make sure all the bases are covered.

If and when, for example, Nikica Jelavic is sold (and suggestions that Rangers will hold out for a fee of £10 million for the Croatian striker are likely to be modified to around half of that before the month is out), McCoist will see none of whatever money is received up front. Rangers have too many liabilities and obligations elsewhere to bankroll the purchase of a replacement.

There is, of course, nothing original about a manager failing to make acquisitions during the opening of the window.

Nor is there any persuasive evidence that a league championship triumph has ever been directly attributable to personnel adjustments at this stage of the season.

And, even if many Celtic supporters remain adamant that the Parkhead club’s directors were guilty of dereliction of duty by refusing to buy in January, 2009, when they held a seven-point lead over Rangers, that conviction springs from mere speculation. At the end of December of that season, when Gordon Strachan’s side left Ibrox with the 1-0 victory that established their advantage, nobody could have foreseen the slump that would cause the same squad to shed 22 points in their last 18 matches. Equally, it is impossible to posit that the recruitment of one or two new players would have altered the course of events.

The difference between the two fierce rivals now is that Celtic three years ago did not have to improve, but simply needed to avoid decline. As things stand now, on the other hand, Rangers must progress and it is a source of worry to McCoist that circumstances suggest they are more likely to regress.